ASEAN Stands Up to Burma?
Image Credit: Gunawan Kartapranata

ASEAN Stands Up to Burma?


Burma’s hard-line new dictator, President Thein Sein, has suffered a series of setbacks in his attempts to persuade the international community that there has been real change in Burma.

First the United States and Canada ruled out relaxing their economic sanctions, saying they wanted to see substantive change first. Then the EU followed suit, maintaining its economic sanctions, and only temporarily relaxing diplomatic sanctions on a small number of government officials.

These setbacks alone would have been disappointing for Thein Sein—as someone in the top circle of the dictatorship for 14 years, he was one of the architects of the new Constitution, which was designed in part to persuade the international community to relax pressure against the regime.

But now he has received another blow, one that will hurt even more because it was dealt to him by a friend. Association of Southeast Asian Nation leaders have delayed a decision on his request for Burma to assume the ASEAN chairmanship in 2014. This isn’t just a public humiliation for Thein Sein, but also a major diplomatic miscalculation.

So why didn’t he sound out fellow ASEAN members before making his bid?

ASEAN has long provided protection to the dictatorship. But although it may still approve the chairmanship, comments from an Indonesian Foreign Ministry spokesperson were unusually blunt, stating that Indonesia expects a ‘genuine democracy and reconciliation that involves all parties in Myanmar.’

ASEAN has also laid the groundwork for its get-out clause for refusing the request, while avoiding the real political reason, stating that Burma must have the physical infrastructure required for becoming chair.

If even ASEAN, one of the Burmese junta’s closest allies, doesn’t accept that there has been genuine change in the country, what hope do they have of persuading the rest of the world? 

Perception and reality have often been distant bedfellows in Burma. A few fine words and vague promises from the dictatorship are enough to get diplomatic pulses racing. Throw in the token release of a high-profile political prisoner and the generals know that diplomats and the media will be talking about change being on the way. They know this because they’ve pulled the same trick repeatedly over the decades.

Last year, after blatantly rigging elections, the dictatorship played its trump card, again. For the third time, they released Aung San Suu Kyi, and initially at least, the tactic worked. The rigged elections were forgotten or ignored, as were the 2,000 political prisoners still in jail, and the increased attacks against ethnic minority civilians in eastern Burma. 

Kyaw Maw
June 3, 2011 at 19:06

Who was there to prove she won an election?

Do you believe having her called the leader of democracy
and not the other Burmese or ethnic people is fair?

Having her picture on magazines around the world does not make
her anything but a fool who watched her people suffer, all the while
she called for sanctions so their lives would be misery.

Her NLD lived off Open Society ( SOROS FUNDED ) money in Canada and USA
while the Burmese were under severe sanctions. They had to sell their goods to
Thailand profiteers with Made in Thai labels to make a living. Many paid to
cross into Thailand only to become slaves for little pay and some into
a life of prostitution to end up with AIDs. All the while NLD claimed
legitimacy ?

Kyaw Maw
June 3, 2011 at 19:01

Mr Rich has the best written objective pieces on this forum
I commend your writing as well as the objectivity.
For people to say she is the elected leader shows the level of education
they have not to mention brainwashing from the social communists of

Kyaw Maw
June 3, 2011 at 18:59


Today is June 2nd, I find your opinion null and void
Soros having no influence? do you have influenza?
What is happening now in the Middle East/ Starting with Tunisia to Libya
has his fingerprints as well as the British all over it. What is NATO?
if not for the USA. Just imagine the EU Is broke without the military
expenditures. Alex you better get off the whiskey buddy.

Mr. Burmese vs Mr. Myanmewse
June 3, 2011 at 02:44

If sombody or some organisation is still being proud while he / his organisation has degrade the comunity and his country more than a tolerate scale and level, that person and organisation should jude himself right or wrong and should learn how to respect the human being, human rights, at least his country’s citizens’s right.

We should compare the satus of Burma in the region before 1970 and status of Myanmar in the region now. It is not the western sanctions which made the country poor, Myanmar need to remove self economic sanctions and self barriers which are bundled in the present political and economic systems of Myanmar. You tie your people until they cannot move and should not blame others for it.

While you cannot discuss with your own peoples and cannot respect your own promises, it will not be easy to build trust with others. If we learn the past objectively, we should not repeat the same mistakes. We should proud enough to recognise the mistakes and weakness in the past for better future. Sing your national anthem and study which para of the anthem our government is implementing. Really, even the founders’ visions are not respected. Still being proud for that?

Rich Mookerdum
June 1, 2011 at 10:08

The comments made by *Mr Burmese* is embarrassingly uneducated and resentful.

He’s the definition of a naive person when voicing an opinion about Burma. And an example of how (good) journalism/truth can influence people enough to write ridiculous comments.

It’s quite interesting the self-hating *Burmese* was pointing the finger at the new generation of the military’s officer corps, while giving a pass to former senior army officers and extreme leftists who now dominate the National League for Democracy (NLD).

The party was led chairman Brig Aung Shwe. His deputy, General Tin Oo, was commander-in-chief when troops under his command killed scores of unarmed civilians in 1974, protesting against growing economic and financial hardships.

Another co-founder of the party, and member of NLD executive committee, was Win Tin, who is a hardcore communist.

These despicable ideologues once dominated the now-defunct Burma Socialist Program Party that made life hell for ordinary Burmese. Their harsh rule was characterised by enforced food rationing – in a land of plenty – sudden cancellation of banknotes, confiscation of private property. Midnight knocks to arrest and jail *economic saboteurs*.

The current officer corps have implemented free market and privatisation policies that have generated growth, despite the ongoing Western economic sanctions.

Meanwhile, the ugly old nationalists in the NLD – who damaged our hopes and cheated our dreams — are despairing that a *corrupt* capitalism can survive.

So, why is a Nobel laureate in league with totalitarian monsters from the past?

Unless she’s schizophrenic.

Mr. Burmese
May 29, 2011 at 22:39

You cannot critise Singapore and it’s system. Singapore become everything from nothing, from the third to the first world.

Burmese generals make once a wealthiest nation now poorest in the region. If burmese generals are very proud enough, they will terminate themselves. There is nothing to be proud for you , Burmese leaders can torture the powerless, poor general public, for making the country and peoples’ living standards degrade while you rulers are stealing the state properties, make yourselves rich and enjoy absolute power. Shame on you!

Mr. Burmese
May 29, 2011 at 22:18

Burmese mentally rich? How?
Generals are mentally rich to cheat his own people, to the world repeatedly. Physically, they make themselves rich.
They control the peoples’ rights to do everything, even for business. And they sell those rights to his country people. All business men have to bribe for licences which is normally and lawfully available in other country. Without bribe, no business licences! For example, government control the vehicle import licences. Only military and their relationships are allowed to import. And those sell the licences to the public who want to buy new car. If you get a licence for a car, you can make money which one person cannot earn in 20 years. Military and his closed famliies make business in this way.

Almost 90% of the taxies , bus and private cars in Yangon are more than 30 years old. If you sit with a clean cloth, your cloth will become like rubbish. Government intentionally punish the public because public do not support them. Yongon is not like a city now, it is just a heap of discarded rubbishs. Peoples in Yangon suffer a lot and most of the Yangon origins already migrate oversea. Who care? Government want the people lifes degrade. I am ashamed to be a Burmese because of these burmese behaviors. Making self rich buy exploiting general public rights.

May 24, 2011 at 19:31

All parliamentary groups are simply groups in the UK parliament that is made up of members both from the House of Lords and the House of Commons, and usually from all the main parties (Conservatives, Labour and Liberal Democrats) as well. See for this particular one’s members.

As such I am pretty sure that Soros has no influence at all over it as it is British taxpayer funded.

Rich Mookerdum
May 23, 2011 at 14:43

Objective, let’s be objective here.

While regional countries, you mentioned, were hiding behind foreign armies,
Burma was a nation at war after WWII, fighting a savage civil war and a raging foreign-backed insurgency. Burma’s army fought Chinese-backed communists on its own, without any fancy missiles or jet fighters. And, without US military advisers.

Now that the guns have fallen silent, the Burmese are rebuilding their country, despite the *world’s toughest economic sanctions* imposed by Western nations. You cannot isolate a nation, like Burma, that has perfected self-isolationism into a statecraft.

The Burmese may be materially poor, but spiritually we can be counted as one of the richest. We daily offer much gold and precious stones to the pagodas — enough to make any treasurer cry.

Meanwhile, no one, including nations, can buy back their past, especially the dark ones. As Solzhenitsyn said: *Also, truth is seldom pleasant; it is almost invariably bitter.*

If you don’t speak truthfully about the past, then you cannot speak truthfully about the present.

Rich Mookerdum

May 20, 2011 at 01:04

Rich Mookerdum should probably not generalise situations for his/her neighbouring country if he/she cannot stay objective about his/her country’s situation.

Moreover, at least all the neighbouring countries that were criticised, are functioning far better, more efficiently and much wealthier than Myanmar i.e. just infrastructure alone in Myanmar is it so much more backward than Indonesia, Malaysia, Thai, Singapore! So stop criticising and learn from others instead.
Only when you reach the same level-playing-ground then should you have the right to criticise others!

May 19, 2011 at 18:43

Aung San Suu Kyi is the legitimate leader of Burma PERIOD!! Have a ‘REAL’ (open and fair election) and then maybe would this evil regime in power might be able to gain legitimacy.. although highly unlikely. All sanctions agreed to by Aung San suu kyi should remain in place especially those targeting the regime and their families who are just as evil and heartless.

Rich Mookerdum
May 19, 2011 at 14:31

The Baroness needs to brush up her knowledge of Burma’s political history, or it will come back to haunt you.

When it was founded in 1967, ASEAN invited Burma to join its *zone of peace, friendship and neutrality.* The Burmese politely declined, saying: *We are already neutral*.

At that time, paradoxically, American GIs were in the Philippines and Thailand while Australian and New Zealand military personnel were stationed in Malaysia and Singapore.

Unlike some countries, neutral Burma did not offer military bases to bomb its Indochinese neighbours. As happened during the Vietnam War.

In the end, adherence to a *policy of positive neutrality* paid off. Burma — the other domino — escaped the ravages of the Indochina war. Unlike its poor neighbours — Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia — the country today is not littered ith countless unexploded bombs and landmines.

Burma ended its self-imposed isolation and joined ASEAN in 1997. And only after the Cold War era had ended.

Since independence from Britain in 1948, Burmese governments — civilian and military — have pursued a strict non-aligned foreign policy. Burma is probably the only former British colony, along with the United States, not to join the Commonwealth.

In the late 1950s, Burma refused to join the now-defunct Southeast Asia Treaty Organisation (SEATO), claiming that it would increase the chance of war in the region. How prophetic.

Burma defines its foreign policy as non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries; friendly relations with all countries; and acceptance of aid from all sources, provided that the aid carries no political preconditions.

If chairing ASEAN in 2014 means humiliation or compromising its sovereignty, then Burma will probably — and gladly – quit the spineless organisation. As it did the International Labour Organisation (ILO). Meanwhile:

o Singapore is no paradise, it is a single party democracy, where one family has in effect ruled since 1965 and active oppression of the opposition is part of the political framework, and lacks many basic freedoms.
o Malaysia lowers itself by charging a popular opposition leader with sodomy.
o In the Philippines, families of politicians are slaughtered like animals.
o For generations, elected governments are systematically toppled by the Thai military. Ask former prime minister Thaksin.
o Indonesian generals murdered a million citizens in 1965 to grab power.

But all is forgiven if you do the West’s dirty bidding.

The Burmese are fiercely proud people: like their native teak trees, they do not bend with the wind. We are not *Uncle Toms*. However, Suu Kyi would be an exception. How shameful.

It’s about time ASEAN leaders stood up to the bully boys. Maybe, someone forgot to tell the West the colonial era had long ended. And, to stop thinking like we are still White Man’s Burden.

The master-slave mentality has no place in the 21st century.

Rich Mookerdum
Burmese-born journalist

Kyaw Maw
May 18, 2011 at 17:58

Another Suu Kyi or nothing at all arguement?

ASEAN stood up to Burma but fell like a wet towel for Thailand?

Did the Baroness not like the outcome of this democratic election?
What is the all Parlimentary group? Another George Soros backed front?

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